“We’re experiencing the beginning of the repercussions of the financial crisis,” said Michel-Edouard Leclerc, CEO of the second largest retailer in France. He has never seen so much “rational behavior among consumers” and so much “fear of getting screwed.” Until now, the crisis has touched mostly the financial world, but in 2012, it will hit the real economy. “It’s always the people who end up paying,” he said.
Dexia, the Franco-Belgian mega-bank that was bailed out in 2008 and re-collapsed in October, dwarfs Belgium’s economy. To keep it afloat, Belgium spent and guaranteed phenomenal amounts at a huge risk to the country. Yet there have been no legal consequences for those responsible. Until now….
Governments and companies around the world have been preparing for a collapse of the Eurozone—simple prudence requires them to do that. Theoretical exercises for a hypothetical scenario, they call it. But recently, these theoretical exercises have taken on practical overtones. And even the public is now encouraged to prepare for the demise of the euro.
Sarkozy will be the only French president since World War II with two recessions under his belt, if current forecasts are correct. Recessions are rare in France: between the war and the financial crisis, there were two. Against this backdrop, Sarkozy faces a tough reelection campaign. And front runner François Hollande has vowed to oppose the German dictate on how to save the Eurozone. So it might all unravel.
In France, the litany of job reductions continues. Today, it was Air France. It followed automaker PSA Peugeot Citroën, French banks, nuclear-power conglomerate Areva, drug maker Sanofi, newspapers, ferry operator Seafrance, etc. It’s tough out there. And now, France’s heavily subsidized signature industry—wines—got slapped in the face. By China.
“I’m very happy with the result,” Merkel told the cameras. But the agreement may be illegal under EU law and may devastate weaker economies. It elevated Germany to a leadership role that other countries perceive as domineering. By isolating the UK, it cut a deep gash into the EU. And it can’t be put into a treaty. But it did offer a compromise of sorts.
The Swiss government is preparing for a collapse of the euro while 27 heads of state convene for another EU summit in Brussels to find that elusive solution to the debt crisis. Goal: treaty changes that would impose Germany’s new religion of budgetary discipline on all 27 member states. But opposition has cropped up, and timing turns out to be impossible.
Amidst a flood of proposals, plans, and rumors to save the euro and the Eurozone, much has been made of the Merkozy couple, the uneasy partnership between Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel. Alas, he may be out of a job by May 2012—and his potential successors to the left and to the right have different ideas.
As the euro debt debacle unfolded, Germany benefited from a reputation as safe haven: yields on its 10-year bonds dropped below the rate of inflation while yields spiked in other countries. So when it offered €6 billion in 10-year bonds at a record low yield of 1.98%, it expected them to fly off the shelf. They didn’t. “Disaster,” the media screamed worldwide. But….
My German contacts want to keep the euro. They’ve gotten used to it. They like it in their wallets. It’s so convenient for cross-border travel and commerce. And it has been strong. But now that the European bailout fund has descended into irrelevance, they fret about the euro’s future. They want it saved. And they’re increasingly willing to pay a price.